British Gas sorry its agents broke into customers’ homes

LONDON (AP) – The UK government said on Thursday it was responding to “deeply shocking” revelations that debt collectors working for British Gas were breaking into customers’ homes to install prepaid gas meters, putting vulnerable people at risk of that their heating is switched off.

British Gas’ parent company Centrica PLC said it had stopped the “unacceptable” practice. The country’s energy regulator launched an investigation.

The Times of London reported that debt collectors obtained court orders to enter the homes of people who had defaulted on their energy bills. They installed meters that require customers to pre-pay for their gas supplies – if they don’t, they get cut off. This practice allows companies to circumvent rules that limit the circumstances in which they can stop deliveries to indebted customers.

The newspaper said an undercover reporter working for collections firm Arvato Financial Solutions accompanied agents to break into homes and “forcefully adjust” meters. The newspaper said customers included a single father with three young children whose door was forced open by a locksmith and a mother with a 4-week-old baby.

The Times said energy companies applied for 345,000 warrants to force entry into UK homes in the first 11 months of 2022.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, called the report “deeply shocking and worrying”.

“Vulnerable families shouldn’t be treated so poorly,” he said. Energy Secretary Graham Stuart has called British Gas representatives to a meeting on Thursday, the government said.

Britain’s energy regulator Ofgem said it was investigating “extremely serious allegations”.

Chris O’Shea, CEO of Centrica, said that “protecting vulnerable customers is an absolute priority and we have clear processes and policies in place to ensure we manage customer debt carefully and securely.”

“The allegations against our third-party contractor, Arvato, are unacceptable and we immediately halted their warrant work,” he said.

Arvato Financial Solutions acts “at all times in accordance with the regulatory requirements in the areas in which we operate.”

“We treat customers we come into contact with with respect and assess their individual needs at the time of our visit,” the company said in a statement. “If there has been verbal or other misconduct by individual employees, we deeply regret this.”

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said the report shows the need for “a formal investigation into the prepayment meter scandal and the role of the courts in enabling this practice”.

After Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, household energy bills in the UK skyrocketed and the resulting Western sanctions against Moscow sent global oil and gas prices skyrocketing. Wholesale gas prices have since fallen, but critics say energy companies are not passing the benefit on to customers.

Shell reported Thursday that its annual profits doubled to a record high of $39.9 billion last year.

The UK government has given households at least a £400 ($500) discount on their energy bills for six months, but support is set to be scaled back in April.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

| |
Back to top button